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Orlando Pride Raising Expections in Record-Breaking Start

The Orlando Pride’s culture has propelled the team to a strong start and potentially more in 2024.

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Image courtesy of Orlando Pride

In front of more than 7,500 fans Saturday night, the Orlando Pride defeated expansion side Bay FC 1-0 and extended their win streak to a club-record six victories. It was the Pride’s most attended home game of the season and they are tied with the Kansas City Current on points at the top of the table. With a third of the season behind them, the Pride have six wins, three draws, and no losses, and soccer fans in the City Beautiful are energized. While Orlando will almost certainly lose a match at some point this season, the club’s identity and togetherness laid the foundation for this undefeated start and raised the bar for the rest of the campaign.

There may be some optimistic Pride fans who predicted Orlando would be tied for first place after nine matches, but most would admit that this season is going better than anticipated. With the benefit of hindsight however, Orlando’s current form can be seen as a continuation of the progress made by the club under Head Coach Seb Hines and General Manager Haley Carter. This duo has led the way in establishing a culture focused on player wellbeing and inclusion off the pitch, as well as grit and flexibility on it.

The environment created by the staff can have a big impact on the locker room and the outcomes of matches. Nothing shows this team’s togetherness clearer than the “L” goal celebration they have flashed time and again for midfielder Luana following her diagnosis with Hodgkin’s lymphoma. It is evident from watching the Pride play as a team, pick each other up, and celebrate together after goals and victories that they are doing it for each other. 

“Having the buy-in from everyone, it doesn’t just take myself, it takes the whole group, and it starts from the top, but I think the most important thing is we wanted to create a culture where everyone felt they had an opportunity to come in and make a difference,” Hines said in the preseason. “Making the players feel valued is really important for us and I think that can be a recipe for success.”

After a season where the Pride barely missed out on the playoffs, a credible target for the club going into 2024 would have been just to reach the postseason. However, one word describes Orlando’s performances through nine matches: incredible. After being overlooked by the larger soccer audience the last two off-seasons, expectations should be changing rapidly for NWSL fans, the media, and opposing clubs. Perceptions can be slow to change though, and there are still a large number of doubters outside of the state of Florida.

“Coming out of last season [the players] have a bit of a chip on their shoulder and they feel like they have something to prove” said Carter several weeks ago. “Everyone’s goal is to make the playoffs and ultimately to win an NWSL championship.”

Carter also called winning a title a lofty goal that needs to be taken one game at a time.

While there are many matches left to be played, the Pride are showing they belong on the list of contenders for an NWSL championship. At the start of the season, conventional wisdom would have had the 2023 NWSL Shield winners, the San Diego Wave, and the 2023 NWSL champion, NJ/NY Gotham FC, as favorites for trophies this year, along with perennial competitors like the Portland Thorns and North Carolina Courage. Instead, the top three teams in the standings are the Current, Pride, and Washington Spirit. 

The only real knock against Orlando’s table-topping credentials is the relative ease of the schedule played to date. So far, six of the team’s nine matches have been at home, and six matches have come against teams currently in the bottom half of the standings. Regardless, this easier start may have been a blessing, as it allowed the Pride to build positive momentum from the get-go. 

The eye-test says that Orlando’s record is not a fluke. The Pride have defended exceptionally well, and the recent addition of Barbra Banda, who has four goals, two assists, and two penalties drawn in four starts, has unlocked a new level in the attack. While a loss will inevitably come, the Pride have shown that they will be competitive in every match remaining.

The biggest risk to the Pride continuing their electric form is injuries, something to which no team is immune. Season-ending injuries have already reduced the team’s depth, as Megan Montefusco, Simone Charley, and Luana won’t feature again in 2024. Emily Sams, Morgan Gautrat, and the Brazilian trio of Rafaelle, Adriana, and Marta have also missed time but since returned to the lineup. Angelina, another Brazilian and a standout performer in the early goings of the season, recently underwent an arthroscopic knee scope and is going to be evaluated week to week. Her fellow midfielders will have to play at their best to minimize the impact of her absence, and the team will hope for fewer injuries the rest of the year.

To keep their form going strong, the Orlando Pride need continued contributions from each part of the organization, including the players, the staff, and even the fanbase. First, the players need to continue to build their on-field chemistry as the season progresses until they instinctively know where to pass, when to make a run, and when to press as a team. This team has the potential to be even better once the new players and experienced players alike have spent more time together.

Regarding the staff, Carter’s job is to never be fully content with the roster as it is. As spring turns to summer, she will likely keep an eye on the contract situations of the top talents around Europe and other leagues that follow the traditional soccer calendar. The team may be able to add more depth in midfield or extra goal-scoring on the wings if the right player is available. Lastly, the fans need to continue to show up for the Pride and bring their friends and family to fill Inter&Co Stadium. As more folks around Orlando take notice of the Pride, the club should be able to create a formidable advantage at home.

Before the season, Carter said the players, “know that the expectations and the bar has been raised coming out of last season, and they’re ready to live up to those expectations.” Proving Carter right, Orlando has already set several club records to start 2024, including its longest win streak in club history.

Despite the exciting start, everyone in the organization knows that awards aren’t won in May. This team has set a new standard for itself and the challenge now is to keep pushing for new heights.

Orlando Pride

Orlando Pride vs. North Carolina Courage: Final score 0-0 as the Pride Remain Unbeaten

The Orlando Pride remain undefeated after taking a road point against the North Carolina Courage.

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Photo Courtesy of Orlando Pride / Jeremy Reper

It wasn’t the result that the Orlando Pride wanted, but the team remains unbeaten in 2024 after a 0-0 draw against the North Carolina Courage at WakeMed Soccer Park. Orlando (8-0-5, 29 points) had plenty of chances but was unable to score a goal for the first time this season. The Pride were the first team this year to take any points away on the road against North Carolina (5-7-1, 16 points), which is now 5-0-1 at WakeMed Soccer Park in 2024.

The Pride had an opportunity to go top of the table as the Kansas City Current drew the Chicago Red Stars Friday, but the 0-0 draw wasn’t enough to do so. This was first time the Pride were shut out since September 9, 2023 on the road against OL Reign. Halfway through this season, the Pride are only two points shy of their point total from 2023.

“The positives are, you know, a point on the road, (which) it’s probably something we would have taken before the game,” Hines said. “No other team has done that against North Carolina. Clean sheet as well. It’s really important that we get that going as well. But, I think after the game it’s a bittersweet taste in our mouths because we thought that we played really well.”

Brianna Martinez echoed Hines’ comments.

“We’re proud to be the first team to kind of give them a tough game at home but also disappointed, because I think we know we could have beat them and walked away with three (points),” the defender said. “Our effort was there, just technically it could have been a little bit better if we kept the ball.”

Hines did not have a full-strength squad for the match, with starters Rafaelle and Morgan Gautrat out with injuries. Anna Moorhouse started in goal behind a back line of Kerry Abello, Kylie Strom, Emily Sams, and Brianna Martinez. The midfield in the 4-4-2 consisted of Adriana, Julie Doyle, Summer Yates, and Haley McCutcheon, with Barbra Banda and Marta up top.

After the start of the game was delayed due to field conditions, the Pride didn’t wait very long to get into the attack with a takeaway in the first minute, moving the ball up to Banda into the box, but she lost possession. The Pride got their first chance in the fourth minute as the ball was worked up the left side to Banda, who crossed it in to Marta , but the shot went right into the arms of Courage keeper Casey Murphy.

The Pride’s second shot on goal came in the seventh minute on a break that saw Banda once again cross the ball — this time to Doyle — who also sent it right at Murphy.

In the 14th minute, Yates tried to make her way into the box where she was stood up. The ball popped out to Banda, who took a shot from outside the box, but it went wide right of goal.

Doyle earned a free kick in the 15th minute, but the attempt went to Murphy again. In the 17th minute, the Pride had another free kick resulting in a corner kick. Unfortunately, Yates sent the ball over the goal and out for a goal kick.

The Courage were able to get some possession, including a ball into the box, but the Pride defense was able to clear. In the 26th minute, Martinez made a good interception but slipped, allowing the Courage to get a half chance off that was easily saved by Moorhouse.

In the 29th minute, Marta took a long-distance shot that sailed over the goal. The Pride followed that up a minute later with another shot that bounced back to Adriana, who headed it right to Murphy. In the 32nd minute, Adriana made her way into the box and crossed for Marta on the back post, but her header went wide left.

The Courage got their first good chance in the 33rd minute when Ashley Sanchez beat Martinez to the ball in the box, but Moorhouse did well to come out, get big, and make the save. The resulting corner kick was headed out by the Courage for a goal kick.

The Courage got behind the Pride defense in the 38th minute. Sanchez took a shot at the top of the box, but it sailed high. One minute later, Narumi Miura took a long-distance shot that went left of goal.

In the 42nd minute, Marta took another shot on goal from outside the box, but again it went right to Murphy. After that, both teams saw out the half with no stoppage time given.

North Carolina held the halftime edge in possession (54%-46%), shots (7-6), and passing accuracy (83%-80%). Despite one fewer shot, the Pride had more shots on target (3-2), with the corners being equal (1-1).

The Courage came out on the front foot to start the second half, but it was the Pride that got the first shot. Once again, Banda muscled her way into the box, but she was unable to get the shot off. The ball bounced out to Marta at the top of the box, but her shot went wide right.

In the 48th minute, Banda again made her way forward, this time earning a free kick when she was fouled from behind. The kick went into the wall and then out for a corner kick. Unfortunately, there was a foul in the box on the set piece and the opportunity went to waste.

The Courage had a few opportunities in the 55th minute, but nothing on goal. In the 58th minute, Moorhouse came out to make a sliding save where a Courage player rammed her. There was no foul called on the play, and the Courage continued the attack. Fortunately, Sams and the rest of the defense kept the Courage out of goal. After some attention from the trainers, Moorhouse continued.

In the 67th minute, Abello earned a corner that was taken by Marta, but nothing came of it. Two minutes later, Doyle made her way into the box and crossed to Adriana, but her shot didn’t have much on it and was handled easily by Murphy.

In the 72nd minute Adriana took a shot that deflected off the defense and out for a corner. The resulting corner kick was cleared. Two minutes later, Hines makes his first substitutions, including Angelina returning from injury.

“I just want to thank the staff and my teammates. They were there for me the whole way,” Angelina said. “It was like five weeks to get back on the field. I just feel great (and) they gave me great support through my injury.”

In the 77th minute, McCutcheon committed a foul resulting in a free kick for Carolina. Moorhouse punched the ball out. The Courage continued to create trouble in the Pride’s area, but were unable to convert.

Banda took another shot in the 80th minute, but it went wide right. Five minutes later she sent a cross to Adriana, but the Brazilian’s shot was blocked. The resulting corner amounted to nothing, despite a few shot attempts. Banda made another run in the 88th minute, but her shot attempt went high. She was subbed out in the 89th minute for Amanda Allen.

In the second minute of stoppage time, Marta took another shot that was deflected out for a corner. The video assistant referee took a look at the play for a potential handball, but it was cleared. Murphy collected the corner kick, as the Pride wasted another chance.

Six minutes of stoppage time turned into nine minutes. The Pride had a flurry of chances but didn’t score. In the last minute of play the Courage earned a corner, but Moorhouse made one more save as time expired, and the teams split the points.

The Pride made up ground on the stat sheet, finishing with the advantage in possession (51%-49%), shots (19-14), corners (6-2), and passing accuracy (80%-77%). Shots on target were even (5-5).

The lack of clinical finishing is not normal for this Pride team. Even Banda wasn’t dialed in against the Courage. Given how stingy the Courage are at home, and how back and forth the match was, a point on the road is acceptable if not ideal.


The Pride are back home on Friday to host the Utah Royals at Inter&Co Stadium.

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Orlando Pride vs. North Carolina Courage: Preview, How to Watch, TV Info, Live Stream, Lineups, Match Thread, and More

The Pride wrap up their two-game road trip with a visit to the North Carolina Courage.

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Image courtesy of Orlando Pride

The Orlando Pride (8-0-4, 28 points) conclude their two-game road trip tonight against the North Carolina Courage (5-7-0, 15 points) in Cary, NC. This is the second and final time the two teams will face off during the 2024 NWSL regular season, although they will meet in the group stage of the Summer Cup.

Here’s everything you need to know about tonight’s game.

History

The Pride and Courage have played 24 times since the Western New York Flash moved to North Carolina and became the Courage in 2017. The Pride are 6-13-5 in those games (6-10-1 in the NWSL regular season, 0-0-2 in the Fall Series, and 0-3-2 in the NWSL Challenge Cup).

The most recent meeting between the two teams was on May 1 in Orlando. Barbra Banda and Ally Watt started up top together for the first time, a move that paid off in the game. In the 29th minute, Banda set up Watt for the opener. Watt repaid the favor in the 40th minute as the Pride went up 2-0. Julie Doyle added a goal just before halftime, giving the Pride a commanding lead. Emily Sams’ own goal was the only scoring for the Courage and Banda’s second of the night gave the Pride a 4-1 win.

The first game between the Pride and Courage in 2023 was on April 19 in Orlando. The Pride took the lead after halftime when Summer Yates set up Watt for the opening goal, but Denise O’Sullivan equalized in the ninth minute of second-half injury time, resulting in a 1-1 draw. On June 17 in North Carolina it was all Courage. Kerolin and Meredith Speck gave the hosts a 2-0 lead before a Haley McCutcheon own goal made it 3-0 to North Carolina.

The Pride didn’t show up for the July 29 Challenge Cup contest in North Carolina, getting demolished by the Courage. Brittany Ratcliffe and Malia Berkely gave the hosts a 2-0 halftime lead before Frankie Tagliaferri made it three, and a late brace by Haley Hopkins completed the 5-0 result. The Pride finally got a win on Sept. 17, 2023 at home. Watt got the Pride off to a great start, scoring inside the first minute. After assisting on the first goal, Adriana doubled the lead before halftime. Manaka Matsukubo got one back for the visitors, but it wasn’t enough and the Pride won 2-1.

The first meeting in 2022 came on May 18 in North Carolina. The Pride got off to a great start in that game, with Sydney Leroux scoring early. Mikayla Cluff doubled the lead with her first professional goal. A late goal by Brianna Pinto got the Courage back within one, but it wasn’t enough as the Pride took the 2-1 win. On Sept. 21, 2022 at Exploria Stadium, it was the Courage that got off to the better start when Debinha scored in the second minute. The Brazilian then assisted Tess Boade in first-half injury time to double the lead, and later added another, dooming the Pride to a 3-0 defeat.

The Pride and Courage were placed in the same division for the 2022 NWSL Challenge Cup, so the teams played twice before the regular season started. The first game was on March 26 in North Carolina. Merritt Mathias converted a penalty after Gunny Jonsdottir was called for a handball in the box, lifting the hosts to a 1-0 win. The return match in the tournament took place on April 16 in Orlando. The Courage got off to a fast start, scoring three goals in the first nine minutes. Darian Jenkins netted a brace to make it 3-2, but a late Debinha goal put the game away and North Carolina won 4-2.

The teams played three times during the 2021 NWSL season. On May 22 in North Carolina, goals by Leroux and Alex Morgan gave the Pride a 2-0 lead late into the game. Jessica McDonald scored late to pull one back but the Pride held on for a 2-1 win. On July 4 in Orlando, Debinha and Havana Solaun goals helped the Courage take home a 2-0 win. The final game came on July 31 in North Carolina. Leroux opened the scoring but Brittany Ratcliffe equalized moments later and the teams drew 1-1.

The two teams were also matched up in the 2021 NWSL Challenge Cup but they only played once in that tournament. Neither team was able to find the back of the net in that game in a scoreless draw.

Similar to the Challenge Cup, the teams were in the same group of the 2020 Fall Series, meeting twice. The first was on Sept. 19 in North Carolina and ended in a scoreless draw. The second was on Oct. 17 at Exploria Stadium. Led by a Debinha brace, the Courage went up 3-0. But the Pride came back with goals by Marisa Viggiano, Kristen Edmonds, and Ally Haran for an exciting 3-3 draw.

The Pride and Courage played three times during the 2019 season. The first game was on April 17 in North Carolina. The Courage took a 1-0 lead into halftime but scored four times in the second half to win 5-0. They played a second time on June 1 in Orlando. Again, it was a dominant performance by the Courage as the Pride fell 3-0. The final meeting that year was another thrashing by North Carolina. The Pride got a goal in that one but still fell 6-1.

The teams also met three times in 2018 but the results were much closer. On May 23 in Orlando, goals by Alanna Kennedy and Rachel Hill saw the Pride come back from a 3-1 deficit. But McDonald scored a winner in the 90th minute and the Courage won 4-3. The Pride went down by three goals in the final two games that season, but were unable to come back and fell 3-0 in both contests.

The 2017 season saw the teams meet for the first time. The Courage took the first game 3-1 on April 29 in North Carolina. They played a second time two weeks later in Orlando when the Pride took the 3-1 win. The final meeting in 2017 came in the final game of the season on Sept. 30. The Pride took a 2-0 lead but the Courage came back to even it at 2-2. It looked headed for a draw until Kennedy netted a late winner, leading the Pride to a 3-2 win.

Overview

The Pride are coming off a hard-fought 1-1 draw in San Diego, a result that snapped their eight-game winning streak. Julie Doyle opened the scoring in the first half with arguably the goal of the season, but the visitors equalized through Makenzy Doniak in the 62nd minute. Despite ending their winning streak, the draw extended the Pride’s unbeaten run to 12 games and kept them tied on points with the Kansas City Current atop the NWSL standings.

Banda has been the most impressive player for the Pride this season, scoring eight goals, recording three assists, and drawing two penalties in eight games. She added to her assist tally in San Diego, setting up Doyle’s first-half goal. The team has also been strong defensively and Head Coach Seb Hines has found his preferred back four. After shifting players around because of injuries and suspensions, he’s used Sams, Rafaelle, Kylie Strom, and Kerry Abello in five of the last six games. However, Rafaelle missed the San Diego contest and is out tonight with a leg injury.

The Courage have historically been one of the best teams in the NWSL, but have struggled this season. They’re currently tied with Racing Louisville for seventh in the league and have a -2 goal differential. They’re in the middle of the league in both goals scored and goals conceded, unsurprisingly leaving them in the middle of the table.

North Carolina has been led offensively by the players you’d expect. Tyler Lussi has a team-leading three goals, just ahead of Bianca St-Georges and Haley Hopkins, who have two each. Dani Weatherholt, Ashley Sanchez, Brianna Pinto, Kaleigh Kurtz, and Malia Berkely have all added one as well. The only player with multiple assists this year is Sanchez, the team’s primary playmaker. The U.S. international will likely cause the most problems for the Pride back line, making stopping her essential.

The Courage haven’t been bad in most games defensively this season. Other than the 4-1 loss to the Pride, the only time they’ve conceded more than two goals was in a 3-0 loss to the Houston Dash on May 24. However, they bounced back on June 8, only losing 1-0 to the Portland Thorns. They started the season with a four-person back line, but have recently switched to three in front of starting goalkeeper Casey Murphy, so it will be interesting to see how they line up tonight.

While the Courage have gotten off to a disappointing start, they’ve been excellent at home. The team has yet to drop points at WakeMed Soccer Park, winning all of their first five games, including a 2-0 win over the Thorns on April 13. Their home form will make winning a difficult task for the Pride.

“Results from them has shown that it’s a tough place to go and get points. They’re unbeaten, they’ve won every game there, and we expect nothing less than a tough game,” Hines said about the Courage. “So we’ll go out there, we’ll give everything like we have done in every game. We want to bounce back from almost a disappointing result away at San Diego. We know we can play better than that and so we’ll be going in there and looking for a win.”

Angelina (knee) isn’t listed on the injury report this week for the first time since her injury, but Morgan Gautrat (concussion) and Rafaelle (leg) have been added to players out. They’re joined by Celia (hip), Simone Charley (leg), Luana (illness), Megan Montefusco (heel), and Viviana Villacorta (knee). North Carolina will be without Sydney Collins (ankle), Estelle Johnson (maternity leave), Kerolin Nicoli (knee), Olivia Wingate (leg), and Ryan Williams (suspension), while Matsukubo (lower leg) and Dani Weatherholt (leg) are questionable.


Official Lineups

Orlando Pride (4-4-2)

Goalkeeper: Anna Moorhouse.

Defenders: Kerry Abello, Kylie Strom, Emily Sams, Brianna Martinez.

Midfielders: Adriana, Summer Yates, Haley McCutcheon, Julie Doyle.

Forwards: Barbra Banda, Marta.

Bench: McKinley Crone, Cori Dyke, Carrie Lawrence, Ally Lemos, Angelina, Amanda Allen, Mariana Larroquette, Alex Kerr, Ally Watt.

North Carolina Courage (3-4-3)

Goalkeeper: Casey Murphy.

Defenders: Felicitas Rauch, Malia Berkely, Kaleigh Kurtz.

Midfielders: Victoria Pickett, Denise O’Sullivan, Narumi Miura, Bianca St-Georges.

Forwards: Tyler Lussi, Haley Hopkins, Ashley Sanchez.

Bench: Marisa Bova, Julia Dorsey, Natalia Staude, Jenna Winebrenner, Riley Jackson, Maya McCutcheon, Landy Mertz, Brianna Pinto, Meredith Speck.

Referees

REF: JC Griggs.
AR1: Nicholas Seymour.
AR2: Tiffini Turpin.
4TH: John Rush.
VAR: Alejandro Mariscal.
AVAR: Tom Felice.


How to Watch

Match Time: 7:30 p.m.

Venue: WakeMed Soccer Park — Cary, NC.

TV: Bally Sports Florida.

Streaming: NWSL+.

Twitter: For rapid reaction and live updates, follow @SkoPurpSoccer, the official Twitter account of our Orlando Pride podcast (The Mane Land’s main account will be providing updates on Orlando City’s match), and the Orlando Pride’s official Twitter feed (@ORLPride).


Enjoy the match. Go Pride!

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Orlando Pride at North Carolina Courage: Three Keys to Victory

What do the Pride have to do to earn a victory against the Courage?

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Image courtesy of Orlando Pride / Mark Thor

The Orlando Pride head north to take on the North Carolina Courage Saturday night at WakeMed Soccer Park in Cary, NC. The Pride will look to extend their season-long unbeaten streak and start another win streak against the Courage. A victory might put the Pride back on top of the NWSL table.

What do the Pride have to do to earn all three points on the road?

Shut Down the Courage

Barbra Banda might have more goals than North Carolina’s Tyler Lussi and Bianca St-Georges combined, but that doesn’t mean the two players are not a threat to score. This season, Lussi and St-Georges have three goals and two goals, respectively, accounting for five of Carolina’s 13 goals. Keeping those two in check is imperative to secure a victory.

Doing so will require the Pride defense to be effective when passing out of the back. The bad habit of dribbling into the opposition, or making poorly weighted passes in their own third needs to stop. If the Pride can improve the passing out of the back while maintaining their otherwise solid defense, the club can limit Carolina’s chances.

More Better Moorhouse

Anna Moorhouse is a pretty good shot stopper, but I still hold my breath on crosses and corner kicks. Moorhouse had a pretty good match against the San Diego Wave, and she needs to improve on that performance. She has faced 43 shots on goal with 32 saves and 11 goals allowed. That the number of shots is so low is a testament to the defense in front of her. Moorhouse has the physical tools needed, now she just needs to fine tune her decision-making and put a little stickum on the keeper gloves. If she can continue to build on that last performance on Saturday against Carolina, the Pride will have a good shot at continuing the unbeaten streak.

Help Banda to Help You

Even when teams try to stop Banda by putting multiple players on her, it’s never completely effective. However, if Banda’s teammates can create some space and some chances on their own, that will draw defenders from Banda, allowing her to be more dangerous. As such, it is important to players like Adriana, Marta, Ally Watt, Julie Doyle, and Summer Yates to do more on their own. Teams are worried about Banda and will defend accordingly. Now, the Pride just need to make them pay for doing so.


That is what I will be looking for Saturday night. Let me know your thoughts in the comments below. Vamos Orlando!

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